Funding: Clarifications to Harriman

Ferland Louis H. ferlandl at ERE.UMontreal.CA
Sun Dec 31 01:20:43 EST 1995

On 30 Dec 1995, Alexander Berezin wrote:

> Date: 30 Dec 1995 18:21:56 -0800
> From: Alexander Berezin <berezin at>
> To: bioforum at
> Subject: Funding: Clarifications to Harriman
> Clarifications of some points which I believe 
> result of misunderstanding (let it be my fault,
> if you please) - Alex Berezin
> On 30 Dec 1995, Gregory R. Harriman wrote:
> > 
> >      As we have discussed before but you conveniently ignore, biomedical
> > research (even performed on a small scale by single investigators)
> > frequently involves extraordinary expenses not usually found in other
> > areas of research.  Just the costs of maintaining a "knock-out" colony of
> > mice can run thousands of $ per month.  It would be helpful in these
> > discussions if you realized that some fields of research by their nature
> > cost more to accomplish than others.  
> Of course, I do realize this and have never said such stupidity
> (unless somehow misphrased) that theoretical physics (or even 
> experimental physics) 
> have to face the same expenses as biomed (average difference 
> betwen EXPERIM.physics and biomed is perhaps factor of 5 to 10;
> grants in theor.physics usually about 2-3 times lower than in
> exper.physics, or at least should be).

Alex, I still don't buy the idea of a fixed grant cap, even if variable 
from one area of research to the other to account for differences in cost 
between disciplines. My main reason is that such cost difference ratios 
can only be avereages and would not account for cost differences between 
projects WITHIN a discipline. You still would have people with good but 
expensive projects who would find themselves unable to get funding to 
develop their good ideas when they reach the fixed cap. A fixed cap 
simply cannot apply to all scientists, even within a given discipline, 
because the projects are MUCH too varied (and I mean both scientifically 
and budget-wise).

And, as I wrote to you privately yesterday, if you add to this the notion 
of funding individuals according to their track record without judging the 
projects (as described in the two papers of yours you posted yesterday), 
you get even more of a mess: Not only is a detailed description of the 
proposed research -along with a detailed budget- necessary to determine 
how much money should be invested in it, but further, what do you make of 
the project whose cost does not match its author's track record's 
"monetary value"? Except for coincidences, what you propose would lead 
to SYSTEMATIC inadequacy between the funding required to accomplish a 
project and the amount allowed to do so.

> >      I suspect $100,000 per year for a physicist (especially a theoretical
> > physicist) might be a very generous amount of money, since his/her only
> > expense would be a salary.  
> Not even that (in Canada). I assume that professor is on 12-month
> salary as a university teacher and all we are talking about is a
> research grant. For theor.physicsist/ mathematician grant  of
> $ 8,000 US will be pretty reasonable, grant of $ 25,000 US per
> year almost a bananza as theor.physicsts don't really need postdocs,
> and can live up by grads and visitors (or be short term visitors
> themselves).
> Obviously, you will laugh at me if I suggest that $ 25,000 per
> year is a reasonable biomedical grant (though for many those 
> who are denied prime funding even these kind of amounts makes sense 
> as it improves their possibility of teaming).  

I am becoming sensitive to your idea of the "sliding scale", i.e. not 
leaving most scientists grantless. The problem, of course, is where do we 
get the money to implement this?

> (rest of this exchange is deleted as mostly redundant to the 
> above).
> > 
> > Greg Harriman
> > 
> > 

Dr. Louis H. Ferland
Centre de Recherche, Hotel-Dieu de Montreal
Dept de Nutrition, Universite de Montreal
Phone: (514) 843-2757     FAX: (514) 843-2719

More information about the Bioforum mailing list